ATLANTA The Atlanta Hawks moved one step closer to clinching home court in the first round of the playoffs with Friday's 97-92 win over the Boston Celtics.
But Hawks coach Larry Drew was in no mood to celebrate the win, not when it came down to the final minute despite Boston playing without five of its top seven players who were either out because of an injury or simply had the night off.
"As far as I'm concerned," said Drew, "whether Boston lost the game or not, they accomplished what they wanted - to have his reserves come out and compete at a high level, and to take us down to the wire the way they did."
With a lineup on the floor that included E'Twaun Moore, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Jajuan Johnson and Ryan Hollins, the Celtics had the ball with a chance to take the lead with the Hawks clinging to a 79-78 lead.
A jumper by Johnson was off the mark. Boston got the offensive rebound, but Moore missed a 3-pointer that seconds later resulted in a 3-pointer by Atlanta's Willie Green.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers heard a lot of praise bestowed upon his players who put up the kind of fight few not on the Celtics' payroll, anticipated.
"Nobody gave us a chance in hell tonight," said Celtics guardforward Marquis Daniels who hd a season-high 12 points. "We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We were a couple shots away from it."
For Rivers, he was proud of how his team fought through some less-than-stellar circumstances. But regardless of who plays, the goal remains the same.
Because of that, the C's are able to keep Friday's loss in perspective.
"We didn't win the game," Rivers said. 'And that was our goal."
The same goes for the Hawks, who were able to come away with the victory.
But there's no question that it didn't sit well with them, especially knowing that there's a very good chance these two will see each other in the first round of the playoffs.
And the C's will have most, if not all, of the guys missing on Friday, back in the lineup.
Joe Johnson led all scorers with 30 points, and he acknowledges that the Hawks don't feel all that great about Friday's victory.
"For us," Johnson said. "It definitely sits a little uneasy. I don't feel like we brought our "A" game, particularly given they had a few guys out."
More than anything, it becomes a game in which a team's mental toughness and ability to focus on the job at hand - regardless of the opponent - is put to the test.
And the Hawks, truth be told, barely passed.
"As I told our players," Drew said, "I understand the psychological and mental side of a game like that where a team doesn't have its top six or seven players. I've been around this league long enough to see that situation. Either you handle it or you don't, and we didn't handle that side of it."